Comment & Analysis: And then I saw the bottle and am a non-believer

Surely a believer’s faith cannot be so easily put on the rocks that it’s shaken and stirred by the mere presence of alcohol within a few metres radius?  Millions of Muslims live in communities where alcohol is as easily available as water, yet do not feel tempted to become a regular at the local bar.

Millions of Muslims live in communities where pork products are on every other breakfast dish but do not feel the urge to binge on bacon at the crack of dawn. Their belief in Islam and its teachings removes, or at least provides the strength to resist, the temptation to commit any of these acts that Islam has forbidden.
Why is it that religious leaders in the Maldives cannot bear the thought of allowing Maldivians to inhabit an island where an open bottle of alcohol may breathe the same air as a native? Is it that these religious leaders have so little confidence in Maldivian Muslims’ faith that laws have to be brought in to ensure that believers believe? Are they saying the faith of Maldivian Muslims is so fragile it will flounder at the slightest of tests?

Surely whether a believer’s faith is strong enough to resist temptation is a matter between him and his Maker? What arrogance to appoint oneself God’s policeman and regulate a person’s thoughts and actions when it is clear from religious teachings that He knows everything His believers think and do. What insouciant interference in God’s business to be running around regulating people’s thoughts in His name! 

So preposterous is the idea that such learned men might be inclined to behave with such egotism in matters to do with God that, perhaps, they should be accorded the benefit of the doubt, and the enquiring mind should turn elsewhere for answers. Let us then, for argument’s sake, assume that the threats to go on strike if regulations were brought in to allow the sale of alcohol on inhabited islands were not meant to police believers’ faith.

Politically motivated?

Let us assume that our ‘religious leaders’ recognise in their most learned minds this basic fact – a true believer does not need man-made legislation to enforce their beliefs. What reason could our religious leaders have then, for threatening to hold demonstrations against the said regulations? 

Could it possibly have something to do with politics? Perhaps social and cultural control? The discourse of the said leaders certainly seems to suggest that if the new regulations demonstrate anything, it is that the government has no respect for Islam. In other words, the law is bad because the government is bad. The exact statement in which this allegation was made bears closer scrutiny: “Alcohol is forbidden in Islam. Allowing the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands shows that the government does not respect Islam”.

Which part of this particular Islamic tenet, one might ask, adds the caveat: “However, selling alcohol to Infidels on your islands, as long as you do not live there, or work behind the bar, is allowed/condoned/encouraged in Islam?” Such selective application and interpretation of Islamic teachings reveals not a concern for believers nor a respect for the religion that they purport to hold dear – it smacks of hypocrisy and cunning manipulation of both religion and the people for political control. 

It was the economic ministry that was to implement the new regulations. This suggests the decision to make the change was governed by economic factors such as contributing towards bailing the country out of massive debts and a global recession. The economic sense behind the regulations is clear – the tourism market, without which the Maldivian economy would collapse faster than we can say ‘oink’, is largely a market of ‘Infidels’, like it or not. And these foreigners, they like to have a drink or two.

The simple equation of demand and supply says that we give it to them – if we want them to come visit us and give us their dollars (tainted or not) so that we keep our heads above water (or have enough money to hold our cabinet meetings under water, depending on which year we are talking about). Thus, the economic stupidity of reversing any regulation with the potential for improving our finances is obvious. Or should be.

Forbidden fruit

It is the political ignorance represented by the decision, however, that is far more nuanced and carries with it much more serious implications – rapidly withdrawing economically viable regulations in order to pacify what by all accounts would have been a ‘peaceful’ protest, is a breathtakingly weak action to take. Dressing it up and spinning it as ‘democracy’ is worse – it is as disrespectful of the political subject as the policing of an individual’s faith by self-proclaimed religious leaders is of believers. 

Democracy respects public opinion, but does not kow-tow to every ebb and flow of its turbulent tide – especially when it is vulnerable to such manipulation by those who so blatantly cherry-pick religious teachings for political gain. A democracy should be able to stand up to and face opposition – sometimes the protests would be loud, sometimes silent. Sometimes they would be peaceful, occasionally violent. Compromises are made, deals struck. And there will be winners and losers.

“Democratic”, however, is not a word that springs to mind when trying to think of a suitable word to describe a government that withdraws sound economic regulations when faced with the threat of a peaceful strike. Try the following words on for size, you might find they fit better – weak, cowardly, pusillanimous.

Neither religion nor democracy can be enforced – as is clear from the current state of the world. If the Maldivian government, and its newfound democracy fails to stand up now to the forces trying to steer the country into a sterilised world purified of all forbidden fruit; cleansed of all temptation; and purged of all independent thought, it should stop letting itself be played like a helpless pawn in this dangerous game the ultimate goal of which is social and cultural control of people through the politics of religion.

A year has passed in which to take stock and assess the players. It is now time to make the moves that would force these bogus ‘bishops’ (pun intended) to a checkmate. 
Munirah Moosa is a journalism and international relations graduate. She is currently engaged in research into the ‘radicalisation’ of Muslim communities and its impact on international security.
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